Updated: Oct 25, 2018
I am often complimented about my dogs as we heel calmly through a crowded market, or they sit at the curb before we cross the road. They hold their drop whilst I have coffee at a cafe and come when called at the park. When the Saturday Group meets at the park, trains in the Botanic Gardens and Heels past the Farmer's Market we hear comments about how good the dogs are, how well trained they are....and I think to myself "If only you knew the truth"!
My dogs are NOT perfect. They are not robots...a robot would be a lot easier, and quite frankly a lot less interesting and fun. Dogs are highly intelligent creatures with emotions, reasoning capabilities, imaginations and the ability to plan. They are problem solvers and will think up new ways to amuse themselves, which is often less amusing for us humans. (Excuse me a moment...I have to confiscate the Farting Pig toy from the Border Collie, I can't hear myself think. OK...that's better. )
There are times when my dogs try my patience to the point where I have to send them outside to give me time to calm down. Sometimes they refuse to work for me in a class, which is annoying and embarrassing. Does this all sound familiar? Do you sometimes despair that your dog will ever be Perfect?
Here's the secret I will share with you: no dog is "Perfect". Just as we are, dogs are subject to emotions and distractions. They have good days and bad days. They have days where they are happy to work, and days where they'd rather play. They get tired, bored, scared, excited.
We can react to these moments in various ways. We can get angry and shout at the dog, which will usually end in tears (the human, not the dog) because the more we shout and fume, the more confused and reluctant the dog becomes. We can give up, and teach the dog that it can play up and thus avoid doing as its asked. Or we can use the moment as a lesson. In class, if my dog disobeys, I can show my clients how I fix the problems. I can show them that there's no point in getting angry, we just reset and try again. I can explain the dog's body language; anxious, excited, bored, stubborn. Sometimes the disobedience has a very good reason. My Koolie will hold her Drop under all sorts of distraction, except if she's desperate to go toilet, or if someone pats her. She loves pats so much that she loses concentration and gets up. And this is my fault. I should work harder on teaching her to hold the Drop whilst being patted. I can't blame the dog.
Don't blame the dog. Think about what's happening. Are you asking more of the dog than they can give? Is the dog anxious or frightened? Have you used correct technique, or skipped a step? Have you practised the training consistently, or has the dog spent all the last week alone in the yard and now you want it to Heel through a crowd on its first walk since last weekend? Is the dog busting for a wee? Have you been working your dog hard for an hour or more, and they are so mentally exhausted they can barely see straight? Are there ducks?
My Perfect Dog is every dog. They are perfect because they are dogs; cheeky, happy, barking, running, snoozing, anxious, feisty or even aggressive. They are clever, emotional, thinking beings. They are our little aliens who learn to speak Human. Take your time with the training. Be patient and learn from the mistakes. Observe your dog, she is telling you something. Celebrate the Dogness, then go back later and try the Heeling again.